A/N: As per usual, many thanks to everyone who took the time to review… and I really should apologise for taking so long to get this one up – being struck down by some RL unpleasantness, and having to re-write an awful lot of this chapter a half-dozen times resulted in… well, a pretty long delay. But, hey, it's here now. Enjoy!
Before The Amplifiers
Had the situation not been so serious, Lilly would have laughed at the look on Miller's face as she took a hesitant – almost fearful – step backwards. There was such a depthless myriad of emotions flickering through her opaline eyes, supported by an explosion of innumerable facial expressions struggling for dominance over her features, it was nothing short of comedic. Not that Lilly could blame her, of course. Lilly Rush wasn't exactly the 'sharing' type at the best of times, and they both knew that her revelations the previous night had come solely in assumption that Miller would be too far gone to remember it. But, that barrier being broken through, and Kat having reciprocated it by a confessional of her own just a few scant minutes ago… there was no going back.
Somewhere between Lilly's own admissions the previous night and Kat's right now, something had changed. The game – if it could be called a game, though Lilly certainly couldn't think of a more accurate way of describing it – had shifted somehow, had ceased being two cops trying to second-guess each others' underlying issues, and become a kind of connection. Suddenly, the presumptions had been cast off like winter coats, and replaced by compassion and empathy… and, though Lilly would deny it to her grave, trust.
She'd seen the trust in Miller's eyes as she'd allowed herself the haven of her confession; it had been raw and pure and true, and it had affected Lilly on a level almost deeper than the words the other woman had been speaking. She knew that Miller had been having issues with Vera's insensitivity; she'd seen that as clear as daylight. But she'd had no idea how deeply those issues cut, how profoundly they'd affected the other woman, until Kat had lowered her defences and granted Lilly the privilege of learning those details. It had been more than an admission of her own emotional shortcomings, Lilly knew. It had been an acceptance, an expression of genuine gratitude for what Lilly had entrusted to her care the previous night. It had been an offering, almost, stating by implication that Kat was willing to bare her soul entirely, if that was what it would take for Lilly to do the same.
That was new. It was rare and it was precious, and it was all these things a thousand times more powerfully given the nature of their job. Nobody in Homicide would willingly open themselves up to any of the others. They spent so much of their lives surrounded by suspects who lied, witnesses who twisted the truth, and victims who were caught up in webs of deceit, sometimes it was impossible to tell the facts from the fictions even within their own minds. It wasn't anything personal, Lilly knew, it was simply the way they all were… the way they had to be if they wanted any hope of surviving within the twisted labyrinth of Homicide.
It was easy, she mused, for everyone to look at her and see Lilly Rush the Ice Queen. But they were all the same; she'd seen it time and time again. Even Nick Vera, the closest approximation they had to an open book, had denied any existence of his marital problems until the day he couldn't hide from it any more. It hadn't taken much for the rest of them to guess (Vera's talent for keeping secrets was about as sharp as his talent for tact) but the simple fact was, he'd denied the situation as if his very life had depended on it, whether for the sake of his reputation or that of his sanity, it really didn't matter. And he certainly wasn't alone. None of them had ever really 'opened up'. That was simply the way things sat between them all. They were a well-oiled machine, and they flattered themselves that they all knew each other so well, there was no need for spoken words or confrontations between them. On those blissfully rare occasions where something happened that did require talking about, Lilly had found, it always seemed to come with a really uncomfortable sense of awkwardness on the part of all involved.
Lilly herself most certainly wasn't a great trend-setter when it came to being open and honest about her issues, and so this was a frightening kind of new territory for her. Oh, she'd been forced to face her concerns before, most often when confronted by Scotty about them; he'd been the one who'd chased her down over the Joseph Shaw case (and the mere thought of that was enough to send a shameful blush cascading across her face, which she sorely hoped beyond all hope that Miller wouldn't pick up on), and he'd been the one to approach her when all this had begun, just after her mother had died. If she'd ever been inspired to open up of her own accord, she'd always assumed it would be to him, because he'd always been the one to bring that out in her, that desire to be honest if only for a brief moment, and if only in a partial sense. He was her partner, and – even if she'd never said a word about any of the things they'd discussed over the course of their partnership – still, he knew her better than anyone else on the team. It would've been logical, if not entirely welcome to her self-awareness, if he'd been the one that she'd ended up spilling her very soul to. It would have been… expected.
This, on the other hand? This hadn't even been on the radar. Scotty, like Lilly, was closed and elusive and preferred the route of denial to that of admission. He had an image, a reputation, and he sure as hell wasn't about to throw that away by talking about his feelings. And, for a long while, Lilly had assumed that Kat Miller was exactly the same way. For a year or more after she'd joined the team, she'd made a point of refusing to volunteer even the most basic of information about herself, right down to the fact that she had a daughter.
In all the time Lilly had known her, Miller had opened herself up exactly once… and that had been more than a year ago. Lilly had found her 'moping' (as Scotty, ever the compassionate wordsmith, had so eloquently put it) over the unsolved murder of Skill Jones, and had listened with quiet understanding as the other woman had spilled over like a dam bursting, reliving her moments with the boy before his death, looking up at her with eyes so wide that it had taken Lilly completely by surprise. There had been a vulnerability in Miller then, the likes of which she had never seen, and had always believed she'd never see again. It had been subtle, controlled, almost self-conscious, but it had been there, unmistakeable… and, most shocking of all, it had been right there on display, bright and wild. She'd been haunted (in every sense of the word) by the boy's death, and hadn't been ashamed to let Lilly see that in her face. It had been the first time since they'd begun working together that Lilly had seen depths within the woman that ran beyond her façade of loudmouthed attitude, and there had been no denying the quiet pulse of camaraderie and empathy that had coursed through her at the sight. She'd had Kat's back then, had helped her convince the boss that Skill's was a case worth re-opening, and (though neither of them would ever cross the line quite so much as to actually discuss it later) Miller's gratitude had been tangible.
That had been about business, though, and it had been easy for Lilly – if not quite so simple for Kat – to hide behind work-related professionalism. Of course Miller had been shaken by the memory, but the look on her face that day had told Lilly that she would've spilled herself to anyone who'd asked. Well, perhaps not Nick Vera… but Scotty or Will, certainly. It had been a coincidence, they'd both assumed, that Lilly had been the only one concerned enough to follow up Kat's uncharacteristic reclusiveness with actual concern. But, of course, that hadn't been a coincidence at all, had it? Because the brief flare of compassion that had prompted Lilly to check up on Miller in the first place, even that had been sparked by precisely that 'female solidarity' that Nick Vera, even now, took so damn lightly. And, like now, he'd been the one to prompt it, sparking her feminist pride by insisting that Miller had just been a victim to 'that female cycle thing'. Of course Lilly would take the other woman's side in the face of that, and of course she'd then take it upon herself to show her rarely-used compassionate side. It was the least she could've done in the wake of such chauvinism. Nothing brought women together, she mused with a hint of irony, quite like ignorance from the males. And, if ever there was an ignorant male, it was Nick.
"Earth to Lilly Rush…"
The sound of her name caused Lilly to shake herself out of her puzzled reverie, her gaze shifting back to where it belonged. Miller was still staring at her, but she'd retreated to the other end of the kitchen. One hand rested on her hip in what Lilly recognised as her most penetrating non-nonsense posture, while the other tapped on the counter with combined unease and impatience. She was frowning, but it was a frown borne more of confusion than anything else, as if she was desperately trying to figure out what she was supposed to expect here, but the simple fact was that this was an unprecedented moment and she was completely at sea. Lilly Rush didn't have 'ideas' (at least not ones that were unrelated to work). It simply did not happen.
"Sorry," she said, not sounding the least bit apologetic. Miller tried to take another step backwards, but the counter obstructed the effort and she winced as her back connected with the sharp edge. Lilly shook her head. "You don't need to look so scared," she said, sounding almost offended.
The comment was light, and the discomfiture dropped from Kat's face like a discarded veil. "I don't get scared," she retorted, a little defensive but also just a little self-mocking. "Besides… even if I did, I sure as hell wouldn't be scared by some skinny blonde, whatever the hell idea she's packin'."
"Good," Lilly replied, simple and stern, and she let that word hang over Miller's head like a guillotine blade. "Because you're the one who started all this, not me." Miller recoiled at that, reacting as if the words had been a switchblade tearing through her, and Lilly felt her heart soften, though her voice didn't. "You made this happen, you brought us to this point. You and your damn alcohol… I was doing just fine until you came along and made me—" She broke off.
"—made you realise you weren't doing just fine?" Kat asked.
She grinned, sheepish and charismatic, as Lilly shot her a dangerous glare. She wasn't right, not exactly, but that didn't stop the irritation from rising in Lilly at the knowledge that she was still hitting far closer to home than she was comfortable with. "Not exactly," she admitted, before she could stop herself. "But you… made me realise that maybe it's not…" Again, she trailed off, and this time when her eyes met Kat's, it was in the hope that she would finish the sentence, as opposed to her former hope that she wouldn't.
"…that maybe it ain't the end of the world if you let people see that you ain't doin' just fine?" Miller offered, gently, and suddenly she was the one breaking eye-contact again to stare fixedly at the floor, while Lilly was the one suddenly struggling to retain that connection for just a few moments longer. "It ain't the end of the world, Lil… but, God knows, I get that it feels like it is." She exhaled, clearly fighting some kind of struggle with herself, before tightening her jaw and continued, still not looking up. "You know why I kept seein' the damn shrink after I got shot?"
Lilly shook her head, but she could tell just by looking at the resolve that clenched every muscle in Kat's body as she took a breath, that she quite probably didn't want to know.
"Because, if I hadn't," Kat went on, toneless and numb, "it would've torn me apart." Lilly raised an eyebrow at that, but didn't interrupt. "You know what it's like after goin' through something like that, and not talkin' about it. It never goes away, however much you want it to, however much you pray it will. It doesn't. You re-live it, over and over, 'till it drives you crazy. But you… you're okay. You get your nightmares. Don't make like you don't, 'cause I know you do. And you wake up screamin' – screamin' – but it don't matter, 'cause there ain't no-one there to hear you, and you can pretend like it never happened, right? 'Cause you ain't wakin' up to see your little girl sittin' on the edge of the bed, scared to death 'cause she ain't never heard a sound like that before. And it's loud, and it's filled with pain and fear and all those emotions that a kid shouldn't ever have to witness… and it's comin' from the one person in all the world that's supposed to be invincible."
So, that was it. Lilly didn't waste time on sympathies, knowing that there was little point in such, instead opting for understanding – a much rarer, and much more valuable sentiment – and nodded. "You kept seeing the shrink 'cause it was the better option for a total stranger to hear you screaming, than your own daughter?" she asked. "All right."
"No, Lil," Miller replied, sounding almost angry. "I kept seein' the shrink 'cause I realised that sometimes openin' up to someone is better than keepin' it all bottled inside." Finally, she did raise her head, and when she met Lilly's eyes her own were so dark they seemed to suck all the light from the room. "Can't hide from your demons forever, Lil, nobody can. They always come out in the end… and you gotta make sure you're the one callin' the shots, not them."
Lilly smiled at that, with a genuine warmth that surprised her. "Good," she said for the second time, her resolve strengthened by Miller's words and her own thoughts. "'Cause you're going to help me with that. You're the one who started this, you're the one who's talking about facing your demons and dealing with your problems. You're the one making me realise that it's not the end of the world to open up… and I never asked for any of it, so you're sure as hell going to take responsibility. Okay?"
Kat's eyes brightened, almost glittering with emotions that Lilly couldn't quite place, and she perched herself atop the counter with a quick salute. "Okay," she said. "Whatever you say, Detective Rush." The use of Lilly's title, in sharp contrast to her habitual use of her first name, struck a chord of gentle humour yet absolute seriousness, and Lilly found the warmth in her smile cool into something more sombre but no less genuine. "So," Kat went on, smooth and efficient and deeply hopeful, "you gonna share your 'idea'?"
Lilly nodded. "Yeah, I am," she said, and used the words as a brace against which to support herself as she prepared for the truly hard part… the part where she really would be opening up and surrendering herself to the compassion of this woman. "You want me to face my demons? Okay. I'll do that…" She waited, watching Miller's reaction, and feeling herself glowing as Kat beamed with the same delirious joy as she had the previous night under the influence of one cocktail too many. "…but you're going to come, too."
The joy on Kat's face, that incomparable flush of utter jubilation at having once again been the one who'd convinced the immoveable Lilly Rush to confront her inner issues, sharpened at the edges, shifting into something more playful. She smirked, almost predatory, and it was clear from the iridescence that shone from her now – almost blinding in its intensity – that she was already placing her bets on Lilly's idea being alcohol-related. "So… where are we going?"
Almost unconsciously, the smile on Lilly's own face dissolved like sugar, in favour of the inundating seriousness that now flooded her completely and threatened to drown them both beneath the near-solid weight of it. It was a stark contrast to Kat's mischievous glee, the almost arrogant assumption that she was the indestructible bringer of clarity and closure, and Lilly took a deep breath – to prepare them both for what was to come – before continuing. "We're going to see my mother," she answered.
The smirk dropping from her face, Kat fell off the counter.
Surprisingly, it didn't take very long for Lilly to convince Miller that it was a good idea. Once she'd righted herself, and stopped complaining about how frequently she seemed to be falling off things when Lilly was around, there had been a sense of almost resignation in the other woman's eyes as she'd nodded her consent. As if, had Miller been of sound enough mind to stop and think about the nature of their discussion, she would've figured out where the conversation would end before even Lilly herself had done. And maybe that was just another edge to Kat's innate intuition… but maybe (and the thought caused tides of simultaneous frustration and relief to flow through her in opposing directions) Lilly Rush really was that predictable.
Problem was, there was a huge difference between making a pact to do something, and actually taking that ever-important step and doing it. It had been easy for Lilly to throw out the idea, in the heat of the emotionally-charged moment that had preceded her suggestion, and it had been easy for Kat – drained and dazed as she had been from her confessions and no doubt the fall as well – to agree to it. But to have an idea agreed upon was one thing. To actually act on that agreement? That was a world apart.
Two days later, they stood there; the two of them, outside the gates of the cemetery. Trapped, almost, between the world from which they'd come and that into which they were about to descend. Behind them, the world of the living, from whence they'd ventured and to which they'd eventually return; ahead, the world of the dead, beseeching them to join them, to walk among them, if only for a little while. At that moment, they belonged to neither world, unable to retreat and yet unable to find the courage within themselves or within each other to propel them that vital step forward. And so, they stood. Together, utterly isolated.
"So… we gonna stand here all day?"
Lilly felt herself start, blinking in poorly-concealed surprise as she turned to face the question. Kat was studying her, eyes wide with… was that real fear?
In all the time they'd been working together (and in spite of Lilly's half-mocking assertion during that conversation in the other woman's kitchen), Lilly had only ever seen Kat Miller look truly scared once. They'd been looking into the death of a longshoreman, and their investigations had led them to a holding-house for underage illegal immigrants being trafficked as prostitutes; Lilly and Kat had been on the scene to hunt down information from the girls and, as they'd made to enter the house, Miller had turned to Lilly and – for the first and only time since they'd known each other – had admitted that she hadn't wanted to go in. She hadn't used the word 'scared', had simply said that she hadn't wanted to see what was waiting inside the house… but that had been more weakness than she'd ever admitted to before, and Lilly had seen the fear in her eyes, the unspoken horror, and she'd felt her heart melt a little.
They'd made it as far as the main hallway of the house, together, and then Lilly had continued on her own. That, they both knew, had been a wholly different situation to this one, but the look in Miller's eyes right now was exactly the same as it had been then. Fearful. Genuinely scared.
The problem was, Lilly realised… this time, she knew, when Kat looked at her with that wide-eyed terror plain as day across her face, she was looking right back at her with the same expression reflected a hundredfold. Yeah, she was scared too, this time. Terrified. It had been her idea, and deep down inside she knew it was something that she had to do, just as she had to keep breathing and just as she had to keep doing her job or risk withering away into dust and nothingness. She needed to be hear, needed to face the demon that had been haunting her for her entire life. Needed to look down at the remains of the one person who'd held her captive so completely for longer than she could remember. Needed to see her mother, to see the earth under which she rested – if Ellen Rush were even capable of rest, even in death – to look upon her and feel herself set free. She needed to do this, it was true, but that didn't stop her being frightened now that it was here.
"I guess we are," she said, in answer to Miller's question.
Kat exhaled, chewing thoughtfully on her bottom lip. "Okay," she replied, after a moment's contemplation. "So we stand here all day. We don't gotta do this right now." Her eyes flashed, bright and intense, and Lilly felt herself recoil just a little. "If you ain't ready, that's okay. You wanna go home right now, I ain't gonna judge… and, if you really do gotta stand here all day just to figure all that out, that's okay too." She glanced down, and Lilly followed her gaze as Kat traced her fingertips along the edge of Lilly's hand, clearly wanting to offer some kind of tactile reassurance but hesitant to do so. "There ain't no time-limit on this thing, and I ain't goin' anywhere until you tell me to." Gradually, that hesitation began to dissipate, and she grasped Lilly's hand in her own, squeezing tight. "However long it takes."
Reflexively, Lilly felt herself flinch. She pulled her hand free – jerking it, almost – and took a step back almost before she was aware of having done it, and long before she became aware of the wounded look now colouring Kat's face.
She should've expected the touch, really. Miller was a tactile person at the best of times, she knew, always seeking out some kind of tangible point of contact in any situation, from resting a hand on a witness's shoulder, to clinging to Veronica. The scant handful of times Lilly had caught sight of the other woman with her daughter, she was always holding fast to the little girl's hand, as if the loss of that physical touch would be the loss of the child. So many things were reflected by such a simple thing as touch – love, compassion, protection, reassurance, sympathy, and countless others. Lilly couldn't help thinking that her quickness to break away said as much about her own fractured mindset, as Kat's desperation in seeking it out had said about hers.
Touch wasn't something Lilly had been raised to appreciate, at least not from the women in her family. To her, for as long as she could remember, touch was something that was to be shared with the men in her life, a closely-guarded prize that one had to earn in order to be rewarded by. It had been the same for Chris, clearly, who gave it up like cheap wine… but moments of contact between herself and Lilly, moments of intimacy between the two sisters? That was an alien concept. Worse than alien, it was practically outlawed. They were Rush girls; they didn't need comfort, not from anyone, and sure as hell not from each other. The simplicity of a hug, the quiet reassurance offered by the pressure of one hand on another, just to say 'I'm here, you're not alone'… who in the hell needed that? Not the Rush girls, that was for damn sure. They were stronger than that, tougher. Growing up the way they did, they had to be.
It must've been different for Kat. Whether that 'different' necessarily meant 'better', Lilly couldn't say (she had her suspicions, but experience had taught her never to be so presumptuous as to mistake suspicion for fact), but that it was different was certain. For Lilly, touch was something sacred, reserved for lovers and those who had earned that depth of trust. It wasn't something to be given away freely, or else she'd end up like Christina. For Kat, on the other hand, touch was something to be shared with everyone, wherever possible, a gift that she felt it was her duty to give. A way of expressing herself, maybe, on a level that even the eloquence of her words couldn't reach. It didn't mean anything, but at the same time, it meant everything.
Lilly drew in a deep breath, and held it. The moment of contact, startling as it had been, was also a stark reminder of all the things Ellen Rush was responsible for, and tempered rage flooded in to fill the space that now gaped like a chasm between herself and Kat. Ellen, who'd been so busy drinking or getting busy with innumerable inappropriate men to ever give her children a goodnight hug. Who had been the reason that Lilly's childhood had been spent, not playing jump-rope with the other kids, but scrounging for leftover scraps of food. Who had screwed up Lilly's life before Lilly had even been aware of the fact that the life was hers to live in the first place, who had taken every last fragment of innocence and youth from Lilly and from Christina, and turned them into urchins. Who was the reason now that Lilly had shoved that chasm of space between herself and the woman who was reaching out and trying so hard to be a friend, simply because the notion of a woman offering another her hand in support and comfort was so alien and unknown to her that she had impulsively freaked out.
Her mother's soul had been filled with darkness, Lilly knew. Black and cold, like the revenants of a fire, days after it had ripped through everything in its path, when nothing remained but ash and coal. Anything that had once been pure and good and true within the heart of Ellen Rush had been corroded away by the acid of too many generations of booze and bad men. And yet, at the end… right at the end, when Lilly had been willing herself – truly willing it, with every fibre of discipline she had – to hate the woman, to turn away and watch her go with eyes so poisoned against her that they could see nothing but that blackness within and without… only then had Ellen allowed herself to remember the precious moments. So few and so rare, and yet so irremovably grafted onto Lilly's consciousness, onto her very soul, that she could no more forget them than she could forget the frozen nights of starving to death because their last cent had gone on half a bottle of vodka.
She did hate her mother; she hadn't been lying when she'd said that. But, for all the truth in that, and all the deep-set loathing that simply couldn't be undone through a few timely shared memories… for all her self-inflicted denial and for all her refusal to acknowledge it… yeah, she loved her, too. Even right at the end, with the knowledge that she would never again be forced to worry about the one person in all the world who didn't deserve her pity, the freedom that came with never having to be haunted by those hated demons again… even though she looked down with utter loathing at the woman who had destroyed her life and that of her sister, even so, she'd been unable able to deny or ignore the pain and the sorrow and the love that had soared through her like a bird in flight, unfettered and untameable. And that was the hard part; reconciling the hatred with the love, both struggling for dominance over her, and neither willing to concede an inch, both insisting that they had equal right to be there, even as all the while Lilly's own fractured psyche insisted that she needed to step up and make the decision on her own. And it was that knowledge, that realisation that she needed that reconciliation before she could do anything – even something so small as accept an innocuous moment of tactile contact from a friend – that propelled her at long last into motion.
"C'mon," she said, moving off and taking a long step towards the gate. She could feel the heat of Miller's eyes on her, and knew without glancing back that she still had that wounded look on her face, but she refrained from turning to catch the other woman's gaze. "We're doing this. Now."
Kat made no reply, but Lilly could hear the subtle sounds of motion swirling behind her, and knew that the other woman was following. It surprised her a little – and all the more in light of her prior reaction to Miller's bid at lending support – but she was grateful for that. The sound of movement, the knowledge that Kat was still there, that she would remain by her side as she'd said she would. It felt… comforting… to know that there was somebody there with her, though she'd never in a million years expected that – when this day arrived, and she was ready to look down at her mother's grave and see in stone and earth the fact of her death – it would be with Kat Miller standing beside her.
But, in an odd sort of way, Kat needed this too. The Delaney case, and Nick Vera's ill-spoken thoughts about it, had forced her to see within herself something that even now Lilly didn't fully understand, and to see a future for herself where she was the one lying in the ground, wasted and wasting, while Veronica struggled to reconcile her hatred with that love that she would try so hard to deny ever existing. Just as Lilly needed to patch up her own fragmented emotions, Kat needed to patch up her own innate doubts.
There was a tragic sort of solace that came with entering a graveyard, and Lilly felt a broken sort of closure descend upon her before she even reached the first row of headstones. Perhaps it was the nature of her job, the knowledge so far beyond those of the average graveside visitor of exactly how deeply the stories behind those tombs went, but she couldn't deny the strange – almost sordid – empathy that bubbled up within as her eyes scoured the first row of names, absorbing them and filing them away. Any one of them might turn out to be a cold job, with some intriguing or fascinating life that she and the rest of Homicide would one day find themselves unravelling. In their line of work, it was the dead – not the living – with whom the stories lay.
Shaken from her reverie, Lilly turned. Kat stood about two-dozen feet away, hovering over a particular grave with crossed arms and hunched shoulders; at first glance, Lilly could almost believe the posture was an attempt to keep warm, but a second glance was more than enough to realise it wasn't. Miller's stance was a defensive one, as if she'd found a small creature and was protecting it from harm, and it was a stance that told her the other woman wasn't quite so enthralled by the stories that lay behind the gravestones. The discomfort emanated from every part of her as she stood there, looking more than a little ill at ease, and Lilly couldn't conceal the frown that forced its way to her features as she approached the grave and the woman.
"What's up?" she asked.
Miller tilted her head in the general direction of a particular grave. "Think I got her," she offered, then frowned, lips moving in a silent self-deprecating curse. "It. Her. I mean…"
Despite herself, Lilly chuckled at that. They were murder cops, the most well-equipped people in the world to deal with situations like this and to know exactly what to say, and yet – apparently – they were struck down by the same flashes of awkwardness and discomfort as anyone else, when it really came down to it. Kat certainly had the look of a nervous friends, the kind who'd never done this sort of thing before and who didn't have a clue what was the right and the wrong thing to say. She looked guilty, and Lilly had no doubt she'd be wearing the exact same look even if she'd said every worth with utter perfection. Because, as Lilly had said when pouring out her heart in the face of Kat's drunkenness, suddenly it was different. It wasn't just death now, it wasn't just row upon row of dead bodies and embalmed corpses. It was Lilly's mother, and suddenly all the rules and the tricks they'd picked up in Homicide, all the countless cadavers they'd encountered throughout their dual careers, and all the innumerable mourners who had passed through their doors… nothing could prepare either of them for this. Right then, they weren't cops, and they weren't murder detectives. They were just two people.
"Yeah," Lilly heard her own voice rejoin, without even looking at the headstone that had caught Kat's attention. She didn't need to look at it to know the answer. "Yeah. It's her."
"Yeah," Kat repeated, and her arms visibly tightened around herself. "You need a minute? I could go look around, hunt down some new cold jobs? Ain't no shortage of 'em round here, I'm guessin'." The feint at humour was weak at best, but Lilly appreciated it even so, and felt herself smiling.
"No," she said. "You just keep doing what you're doing, Kat."
Kat flinched visibly at that, eyes darkening fast with something Lilly couldn't quite place (for all her innate powers of detection), and she turned towards Lilly, moving her entire body as if her spine had lost all its flexibility. "That's just what—" she started, but cut herself off, with the guilt-ridden flush of someone who had caught themselves saying something they weren't supposed to. "That's… that's the second time this week, one of you jackasses has told me that," she said, at last, and Lilly felt her smile widen into a grin; it didn't take the greatest detective in Philadelphia to figure out who the other person had been, and a flood of warmth wrapped itself around her like a blanket as Scotty Valens smirked at her mind's eye for just one single moment.
"Well, then," she said, desperately hoping that her features wouldn't give any of that away, even as she saw Kat's eyes narrow suspiciously. "If everyone's telling you to do it…"
And, finally, Kat untangled herself from her tightly-crossed arms, spreading them wide in a universal gesture of utter defeat. "But I dunno what it is that I'm doin'!" she exploded.
Lilly felt herself melt, then, and – without even thinking about it – she felt her hand reaching out, independent of her thoughts, to firmly grasp one of Miller's. She, who had pulled away scant minutes earlier, as if the mere thought of physical contact had been a hot potato, now wrapped her hand around Kat's, holding on so tight that it might as well have been a beating heart. Kat stumbled a little, eyes wide and confused, and Lilly felt her fingers curl into a fist beneath her own, tight and resolved, and she pulled the hand – and, with it, the whole arm – towards her, until Kat's body was almost flush against her own, their tangled arms trapped between them. And then, her mind still having no control over her, she pulled her arm free, just for a second, and enveloped the other woman in a gigantic bear-hug.
"You make me smile, you idiot," she whispered. "You make me angry and you make me confess things that you have no goddamn right asking about… and you make me hate myself for confessing it, and hate you for making me confess it… and then, before I'm even through hating either of us, you do or say something so goddamn stupid and you just… you make me smile. And I thought I'd forgotten how to do that. I honestly thought I'd forgotten." She pulled back, fixing the woman with a gaze that she knew were filled with grateful tears, and again she cursed them both for it, and again Kat just looked so lost and so blindsided and so confused that Lilly couldn't keep herself from smiling all over again. "You tear me apart, Miller," she continued, "and you sure as hell don't make me happy, not by any definition of the word. But, my god, you make me smile."
Kat was staring at her as if she'd been speaking Dutch. "I… you…" she said, in a very tiny voice. "You hugged me. That ain't right. You never hug anyone." Her eyes narrowed, a combination of anxiety and suspicion. "You an alien?"
"Yeah," Lilly said, letting her head drop ever so slightly until it rested against Miller's. "Yeah, let's go with that. I'm an alien. When I've finished saying goodbye to my mother, I'm going to take over the world… starting with Broadway."
Kat laughed, the vibration running all through Lilly's body as the other woman draped a supportive arm around her; this time, instead of pulling away, Lilly allowed herself to lean in, absorbing all the warmth and fondness and genuine compassion that was there to be taken, so much so that she could feel the smile on Kat's lips without even needing to turn her head and see it. "I like Alien Lilly," Miller said, eventually, and there was peace in her voice. "She's got a sense of humour. Regular Lilly could learn somethin' from her."
Had the gesture not involved moving, Lilly would've swatted her for that comment. As it was, she said nothing, instead allowing herself to drink in every drop that remained of the moment, relishing every last part of it and feeling the gratitude and solace course through her for a long precious moment before finally – finally – turning her eyes in the one direction they'd been so desperately trying to avoid.
Here Lies Ellen Rush.
Every muscle in Lilly's body tightened, and she felt Kat's arm tense slightly around her in reaction. She forced her eyes to focus on the words, to see them and nothing else, to drain the headstone dry of them. Her lips, moving almost against her will, formed the words, repeating them soundlessly like a silent mantra. Here Lies Ellen Rush. Her mother. Lilly's mother. Lilly Rush's mother. Ellen Rush. That was who lay here. Here, right here. Ellen Rush lay here, right underneath her daughter's feet. Ellen Rush, deceased.
The words repeated themselves, over and over. A million different ways, a million times, and yet the meaning was the same. Over and over again, she struggled to put those words together, to grasp the concept and the meaning like she grasped hold of evidence and forced it to reveal its secrets to her. There had to be some kind of secret here, some kind of lock into which she could place some mystery key and unravel all the secrets of this situation. Because it didn't make sense. It didn't make sense that Ellen was lying there, under the ground, that she was dead and her daughter was standing over her and not shedding any tears.
That was what daughters did, wasn't it? Wasn't that why she was here? To make peace with her mother, to shed her tears and cry over the loss of Ellen Rush? To reconcile her hatred with the love she still fought with all her strength to deny, and to finally mourn? From the moment she'd found out, her mind had been filled to overflowing with so many countless emotions that it had been impossible to keep straight. The hatred towards a woman who had taken away her childhood and her innocence as though, by giving her life, she somehow had the right to take it away as well. The love towards that pitiful, hopeless creature that had been living with her at the end… who, through the haze of alcohol and ignorance, still remembered those tiny details. The deluge of heartbreak and pain that had cascaded down upon her as her mind flooded with memories of The Velveteen Rabbit, both from her own childhood and Ellen's final weeks. It had been a highly fitting reversal of the mother-daughter roles both had played for so long, and Lilly hadn't even realised until it had been too late.
Ellen had never been a mother to Lilly, not really, but that book had always stood fixed in Lilly's mind, a beacon of significance. Those scant, precious, almost non-existent moments when her mother had held her close and read her favourite book and chased all the nightmares away. Then, and only then, Ellen Rush had truly been Lilly's mother. It had been only fitting, then, that – at the end – it was Lilly reading the book and Ellen whose nightmares were finally catching up with her. Right then, in those final days and weeks and moments – just as she'd always said she was throughout her life, doubled over with the weight of responsibility that came from living under an alcoholic's roof – at the end, finally and truly, Lilly had been a mother to Ellen, and Ellen had been the helpless mewling infant who'd taken comfort in a children's story. It had been… tragic.
She'd relived those memories at the time, and relived them again now, feeling as if for the first time the memories that accompanied them. They bubbled beneath the surface of who she was, scrabbling for attention and dominance over each other, fighting like cats or children. The hatred, the love, the heartbreak, the pain. Everything she'd ever felt towards her mother, and countless other things besides.
So why then was she dry-eyed, staring at the gravestone and trying to find some kind of oblique meaning within it? Why hadn't those tears started to fall? She wasn't holding them back, at least not so far as she was aware of it, and yet they simply weren't there. She was looking down, gazing upon the stone that marked the final resting place of her deceased mother, her mind and heart reeling with so many thoughts and feelings that it was impossible to tell one from another, let alone make any sense out of them… and yet, she wasn't crying. She'd come here to loose the weight that still hung over her shoulders and over her head, to reconcile her memories and her feelings about the woman who deserved neither her pity nor her time. She'd come here to shed those tears, to cry out her heart and make peace with the memory of her mother. So why was she standing here, dry-eyed? Why was she, even now, refusing herself the one final reprieve that she needed?
"Is it me?" she asked, only realising that the words had been uttered aloud when she felt the surprised jolt of motion as Kat pulled away from her. Lilly sighed; she was so used to spending her emotional moments alone, she needed to remember that thinking aloud wasn't a good idea when in the company of others. Still, meeting the sympathetic curiosity in Kat's eyes, she steeled herself, and continued. "Am I just that heartless?" she went on, trying to pretend that she'd forgotten the other woman was there… trying to believe that she was alone, just trying to muddle through her chaotic thoughts in whatever way forced them to make sense.
"Lil…" Kat started, but trailed off, arms spread helplessly.
Moving slowly, Lilly turned to face her, feeling her face tauten with intensity. "You were right," she said, quietly and simply, as if they were discussing crossword puzzles. "In the end… she was still my mom." The admission, and the realisation of the truth behind the words, brought with it a full-body tremor. "I hated her. I hated her so much… but I couldn't stop myself loving her. I wanted to… but I couldn't stop."
"I know," Kat murmured, shifting her weight from one foot to the other and back again, visibly unable to figure out whether she should be stepping forwards or backwards.
Lilly loosened her posture, feeling her shoulders slumping forwards and feeling – physically feeling – the light fade behind her eyes even before she saw the surprise in Miller's eyes reflect it. "Then why, Kat?" she heard herself ask, and suddenly everything she said and did, she was witnessing from a great distance, seeing herself move and hearing herself speak as if her mind was suddenly an entirely different person. "Why aren't I crying? She's my damn mother. She's my mother and she's dead, and I… I'm not crying." And now she was the one taking a step forward, her hands on Miller's shoulders in a mirror of their conversation in the other woman's kitchen, only this time Lilly was the one drawing strength from the contact and Kat was the one holding her upright. "You're the biggest smartass in Philly, Kat. You know everything. So tell me… why aren't I crying?"
"I don't know," Miller confessed, her own hands crossing to rest atop Lilly's where they sat. "I don't know why you're not crying. Some people don't need to cry to grieve. Maybe you're…" Her eyes darkened, and she lowered her head to keep them concealed. "Maybe you're one of the lucky ones." Moving slowly, she removed Lilly's hands from her shoulders, and turned her around so she was once again facing the grave. Lilly smiled sadly, leaning back until she felt Miller's arms encircle her completely, the other woman's front pressed loosely against her back. "Talk to her, Lil."
Lilly chuckled. "That's stupid."
"Yeah, it is." She could feel the warmth in Miller's voice, and let herself get lost in it. "But you dunno if it'll work 'till you try it…" Her body shifted, and Lilly felt her cheek brushing against her shoulder. "So how 'bout you humour me?"
Sighing, Lilly once again studied the gravestone. Talk to her. Easier said than done. She was a cop, rational and logical to a fault. She looked at dead bodies and saw corpses, looked at gravestones and saw simply the last resting place of the dead. Her mother was under there, she knew, but would it really do either of them any good for her to speak her piece now? To give voice to those angry words that had eaten her alive her entire existence? Lilly certainly didn't see how. Still, she felt the pressure of contact increase as Kat pulled her closer for a moment, inhaling, and then pulled away entirely; Lilly knew that she was backing away before she heard the telltale footsteps, and all of a sudden she was alone. Right where she didn't want to be. Alone, in a field full of dead bodies, looking down at the pointless chunk of rock that insisted here lay the one person she didn't want to be here with. Alone with her mother.
Sad and angry at the same time, Lilly drew in a breath. "Hey, Mom."
A/N: I'd originally intended this to be the last chapter of this thing… but, as always seems to be the way with these bloody chapter fics, it ran away with me. Here's hoping the next one is obedient enough that I still have some semblance of structure left by the end. ;-)